As I sit down to write this post, multiple threads are weaving themselves through my mind, and I’m struggling to see the bigger picture. Consequently, I decided that perhaps the best thing to do would be to begin writing and discover where the Holy Spirit guides my fingers. I invite you along for the ride….
I made a commitment to reflecting on the CAC Universal Christ conference during Eastertide. I’ve shared my thoughts on some of the messages from Richard Rohr and Jacqui Lewis, but haven’t yet written about the contributions from John Dominic Crossan, who was the one I most looked forward to hearing (because I work with Richard Rohr’s writing on a fairly constant basis and hadn’t yet been exposed to the words of Jacqui Lewis).
Yet, I find myself hesitant to put down my reflections on Crossan’s talks—mostly because they’re still unfolding within me. Because of the storytelling meditations I write on Jesus through the eyes of others, I appreciate the deeper, richer understanding of the historical Jesus and his context which has been a hallmark of Crossan’s work. He did not disappoint me in that regard, sharing multiple new-to-me insights on the political context that surrounded Jesus and his disciples, and likely influenced his popularity. But I’m not quite ready to write about that today.
Instead, what keeps coming back to me is a small piece of a major project to which Crossan and his wife, artist Sarah Sexton Crossan, have devoted a number of years: exploring the development of images of Jesus’ resurrection over the centuries, and what we might learn from that evolution. I bought their book, Resurrecting Easter, at the CAC conference and am slowly devouring it. But I’m not yet ready to talk about the whole.
Instead, I want to focus in this post on Crossan’s understanding of the word resurrection. He said that resurrection is insurrection by another name. The Greek word literally means rising up—and we understand such “up-rising” to be a revolt by the oppressed. Uprising is an edgy word. It’s revolutionary. It’s about resistance to imperious leaders who are harming the poor and powerless.
But Crossan is not talking about violence. Jesus was executed as an unarmed, nonviolent activist (I guess the Romans didn’t hear about him overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple!). We know this because Rome executed violent activists as a group. When much of Israel erupted in violent revolt a few decades after Jesus, Romans didn’t just destroy the Temple in Jerusalem. They also crucified five hundred people a day until they ran out of trees.
In contrast, nonviolent activists were executed alone, to shut them up, with the presumption that their followers would then admit defeat and disappear.
Furthermore, Jesus wasn’t the only nonviolent activist leader during this era. Josephus records a number of what Crossan calls “organized nonviolent resistance experiments,” including a sit-down strike by tens of thousands of Jews when Caligula tried to install a statue of himself in the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus was part of a broader movement, a deeper uprising that took the form of concrete, creative resistance to imperial power and authority.
I can’t help but think that this is what we need today. The news this week about Alabama’s abortion bill (and others like it) is appalling in terms of the broader picture. If this was really about the sanctity of life, there would be an extremely restrictive gun-control bill signed right alongside it. If this was about following Jesus, these leaders would not dare to be so sanctimonious. Remember Jesus’ response to the self-righteous men who were about to stone a woman for adultery (while completely ignoring the man’s role in the situation!): “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” But this isn’t about Jesus, or the sanctity of life. This is about power and control—a theme to which I keep returning, for good reason.
Those in power will do whatever they can to maintain that power and control, including pandering to the perceived agendas of their followers—hence this abortion bill. It’s probably also a direct strike at all those “feminists”—like me—who dare to believe that women are adults who can, and should, make our own decisions about our lives and our bodies. If they really cared about the health and well-being of infants and young children, school lunch programs would be fully funded and poisonous pesticides would be banned from our nation’s farmlands.
But I digress—or maybe I don’t. As I’ll talk about next week, food (in the form of the fishing industry on the Sea of Galilee) was a major issue causing unrest and uprising in Galilee in the years before Jesus began his ministry.
Meanwhile, I invite you to join with me in praying about an uprising. Many such uprisings are already happening, in large and small ways, around the US. On what current social issue would you be willing to take a nonviolent stand? So far, the US isn’t crucifying nonviolent activists. What uprising are you called to begin or join today, for the sake of the poor and powerless?